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A Timeline on Energy IV: Solar Cooking & Climate Research
By Daniel Wise
One of the biggest draws towards renewable energy projects, today and the near future, is their ability to reduce the tonnage of air pollutants and excessive heat rise into earth’s atmosphere. Such pollution is causing significant respiratory health problems, global warming and contamination of farmlands. With most global negotiations and efforts focused upon the reduction of long-term carbon dioxide emissions, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has formed a new coalition of countries with the purpose of targeting shorter-lived, gases and particulates. These pollutant materials contribute to climate change and contaminate air quality around the world. Such pollutants that are short-lived in the atmosphere such as methane, black carbon/soot and HFC’s together account for over one-third of present day global warming as well as negative impacts on public health, the environment and food productivity. Two scientists, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a climate and atmospheric scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Mario Molina, a Nobel laureate in UC San Diego’s chemistry department have crafted a plan of environmental actions to reduce black carbon, methane gas, and other heat-trapping air pollutants like hydrofluorocarbons (HFC’s).
In conjunction with the 35 years of research conducted by these scientists, a United Nations team has helped identify 16 actions to help reduce negative pollutants caused by black carbon, methane and HFC’s. Positive action now can reduce the rate of global warming by half over the next 40 years. A bright side to their strategy is that we have existing technology to target these three by-products of human consumption. For example, black soot can be reduced by installing more efficient diesel particulate filters on vehicles and by educating people more about clean-burning cook stoves. Black carbon is a by-product from burning a variety of fuel sources which do not fully combust fossil or plant-based fuels. Some of the more prevalent black carbon sources identified are: diesel trucks and buses, agricultural burning – burning of the rainforests, and inefficient cook stoves.
I first read about Dr. Ramanathan’s “Project Surya” in May, 2008 which is Sanskrit for sun. Part of his research mission involves the distribution of solar ovens in the rural Himalayas and New Delhi regions where half of the world’s population cook and heat homes with fires from burning dung, wood, charcoal, crop residues and other high-polluting materials. The problem is that as black carbon particulates/soot rise up inside the atmosphere, they directly impact climate temperature changes in the atmosphere by absorbing sunlight. Where they fall on snow or ice, their black color attracts sunlight which causes an increase in reaching melting point temperatures; such as the accelerated melting of glaciers and ice shelves.
Using a carbon footprint calculator on www.carbonfootprint.com/USA , I have estimated that one person who uses a clean-fueled, solar oven the annual average of eight hours a week, could save approximately 509 kilowatts of electricity or 83 therms of natural gas. Actually, we have continued our solar cooking season right into the sunnier days this December – February, 2012. Since most solar cooking is akin to outdoor summer grilling seasons, a person living in the Southwest could accumulate more weekly hours during the peak cooking days in April – October. Correspondingly, that person could achieve a household carbon offset reduction of 140 kilograms from electricity or 440 kilograms from natural gas. So the more you can solar cook, the more economic and environmental benefits you can create. Imagine how much energy we could save together along with the associative and exponential reductions of black soot contaminants. For more information about Project Surya, go to